Moving from the Shoulderblade:
The left arm works more easily when movement initiates from the back and shoulderblade, rather than from the small muscles between the shoulder and hand.
EXERCISE: Take the left elbow back behind and away from the body; scoop under the violin and forward. Keep the inside of the arm soft. Initiate the motion from the back and shoulderblade.
EXERCISE: Swing up and tap the body of the violin to the left of the G string with all four fingers.
EXERCISE: Remember to stabilize the shoulderblade, keeping it near the spine, so that the left arm does not collapse into the side of the body, but instead maintains a lovely relaxed open space. Notice how the inside of the armpit feels soft.
EXERCISE: Hug a tree while keeping the shoulderblades back. Notice how maintaining your shoulderblades’ positions in relation to the spine helps the arms feel lighter and more relaxed.
At all times we should strive for the easiest, most natural positions when playing the violin. When muscles stream into each other, the electric nerve signals can pass through unimpeded. Avoid breaking the lines of the wrist and arm; keep roundness, curvature, and openness wherever possible.
EXERCISE: Compare playing with the wrist forward and collapsed, backwards, or neutral and straight.
EXERCISE: Pair up and hang each other’s arms, first in the air and then on the violin. Really relax and let your arm become dead weight. Does it matter if your finger is arched or flat?
Relaxing the hand to get into position:
We need to be able to get the heel of the hand close to the neck of the violin, so that our 3rd and 4th fingers do not overreach, flatten, or strain. In order to hold the all-important octave frame in comfort, our hand must soften and relax.
EXERCISE: Using the right hand to hold the violin perpendicular to the floor, bring it around into position under your chin, allowing the left hand to follow passively. Do the same thing with a pencil, curving your left fingers and pushing down while your right hand turns the pencil into violin position.
EXERCISE: Massage the webbing between the fingers. Visualize the tissues opening and melting.
EXERCISE: Start with the hand perpendicular to fingerboard and the palm facing you. Use your right hand to melt the left knuckles in, ironing them gently into the neck of the violin. Hold the position and notice how relaxed your arm feels. Repeat several times. Now get into that same position only by turning the arm. Notice the tension in the forearm. Do the fingers move as freely?
With all stretching exercises, your goal is to allow the hand to open – never force, and never overpress. Think of your hand as relaxing apart, with the 1st and 2nd fingers melting back towards the pegs and the 3rd and 4th energetically reaching forward. I call this “split hand.”
EXERCISE: Dounis Stretchback from 4th Position – place 3 fingers on the E string; gently slide the 1st finger as far back as is comfortable on the A string. Repeat, leave in place, and then place 2nd finger on A string. Continue with all fingers. Do NOT allow other fingers to move. Do NOT overpress
EXERCISE: Simon Fischer contrary motion; also slide up and down a half step with each finger. Keep your fingernails facing you.
Keeping the fingernails facing you (this is called pronation) will result in easier manipulation of the spaces between your fingers, improving your intonation and solidifying your finger patterns.
EXERCISE: Simon Fischer Fingertip Placement
EXERCISE: Simon Fischer Thumb Spa – relaxing the thumb. Also try resting scroll gently on a stand.
Loosen the 1st joint to broaden the point of contact to aid in the transfer of the weight from the arm. Do NOT flatten the finger; the 2nd joint should remain higher than the 1st. This is especially important in high positions and while shifting!